Reflections in a Wine-Glass ©: Blend Trends
Wine is no more immune to fashion than clothing or footwear or furniture. That is no criticism. It merely reflects that fashion, or to fashion, is ‘a manner of doing something’ or ‘to make in a particular form’.
Heavily wooded wines were flavour of the month for only so long. Along came the fashionable ABC (‘Anything But Chardonnay’) movement. Consequently, we drink more unwooded or lightly wooded Chardonnay. Think of Pinotage. I foresee reduction in popularity of coffee, chocolate-styled ‘mochatage’ and ‘chocoholic’ styles, as drinkers seek more subtle, natural flavours to their wines. Consider too the rise of organic, biodynamic, unfiltered and unfined wines. Think of Waverley Hills, Silvermist, Waterkloof and Ken Forrester. Here, the drinker seeks to be closer to the original grape, as harvested in the vineyard.
Blends are a journey in the opposite direction. I recall the incisive words of Kevin Grant at Ataraxia. “Blends are an expression of ‘where from’ rather than ‘what from’”. Therein lies the blender’s challenge. To make wines greater than the sum of their parts, not to hide surplus, lower quality grapes.
Only recently, with ‘light-bulb’ moment, I learned that Bordeaux makes only blends. The Bordeaux red is well established in SA, comprising a blend of 5 classic cultivars: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Surprisingly perhaps, white Bordeaux blends are uncommon. I wonder for how long. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc are in abundance (10% vineyard area) though the sweeter Muscadelle – not to be confused with Muscat – is not grown here.
I’ve noticed, in 6 months, increasing numbers of Rhône blends at vineyards I have visited. So much so that they are often named simply ‘GSM’ or ‘SMV’ to denote their Grenache/Shiraz/Mouvèdre or Shiraz/Mouvèdre/Viognier constituents. Rhône blends typically contain less oak and are more red-to-dark fruited than their heavier oaked, bigger tannin, dark-to-black fruited Bordeaux cousins. The popularity does not surprise. It reflects the ‘unwooded’ ABC trend. Pinotage-based ‘Cape Blends’ – e.g. Auret or Spirit of Malverne at Clos Malverne – are less common than might be expected.
I predict the emergence of new red blends as vines of minor cultivars – Italian, Spanish and Portuguese ones – Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tempranillo, Verdelho, the Tourigos and Tintas – as vineyards produce sufficient grapes to harvest. Morgenster, Anura, La Vierge, Cavalli and De Krans already produce single variety and blended wines using these varietals. I don’t think it long before we see new Italian, Spanish and Portuguese blends.
So too will there be further development of what I term ‘hybrid’ blends. These could arise in differing ways as grapes of traditionally separate cultivars are blended together. I think of the incestuous Serenity (Pinotage/Pinot Noir/Cinsault) from Ataraxia, or the Italian/French blend from Morgenster (Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon). The award-winning Cremello from Cavalli blends French (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay) with Portuguese (Verdelho).
Time will tell whether my predictions on new, exciting blends become reality. Meanwhile, I am confident new styles and wine fashions lie ahead.